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Digital marketing guides for photographers.
Posted on Sep 2 2019 by Jen Kiaba

How to use niche marketing to attract your ideal clients.

Rapidly grow your photography business by focusing on a niche to attract your ideal clients.

A camera can open up a new way of seeing for people. For many, their first blush with photography as an art form sees them taking their camera everywhere they go, lest they miss a capture. Photographers can find themselves passionate about a number of subjects in front of their lens, and explore everything from sports photography, to portraits, macros and still life.

For some photographers this passion for capturing every subject possible remains strong for years. Over time other photographers find themselves drawn to specific subject matter and begin to specialize. For the photographer that wants to transition from amateur to professional, that shift is often easier for the specialist while many generalists can struggle to grow their businesses.

Although many people believe that being a generalist casts a wider net, and therefore attracts more clients, there are several downsides to this practice. The first downside is a potentially negative client perception. We've all heard the saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” This is because the perception of generalists is that they are less skilled than a photographer who specializes in a specific niche.

Consider the couple with several thousand dollars in their budget for wedding photography. Are they more likely to think the photographer who shoots landscapes, food, sports, pets, seniors, and weddings is the better fit, or the photographer who specializes in weddings? The likelihood is that these prospective clients will choose a photographer whose niche is aligned with their needs.

A second downside to generalizing is that it can tend towards a volume business model, where the photographer charges less but sees more clients come through their studio. While this business model might work for some photographers, it can also lead to burnout for others who would rather work with fewer clients with higher budgets. The photographer who has spent years honing their niche can charge premium prices for their specialized skills, or for the specific artistic touches that they bring to their work.

Lastly, a generalized business model is more difficult to market. This might seem counter intuitive, because we've already acknowledged that the generalized business model can cast a wider net. However from a marketing standpoint the wider net is a flawed concept that can make it harder for photography businesses to grow and thrive.

When you're thinking about how to spend your time and advertising dollars, generalized marketing is much less cost effective. For example, Facebook Ads work the best when there is a highly defined audience targeted. The algorithm will monitor how people interact with the ad to see if it is relevant to your audience. If the audience you're targeting is too broad, and too few people interact with the ad, Facebook will throttle its delivery and it will cost more to deliver.

Similarities exist within search engine algorithms as well. For example, Google gives preference to content that it sees as being a relevant and authoritative answer to a user's search query. If you've spent a good deal of time writing content that is intended to appeal to the broadest audience possible, Google might not see it as being relevant when people are looking for specific photography services. This is why choosing a niche can save you both time and money in your digital marketing efforts!

When a photographer specializes and knows their business niche, they learn who their ideal client is. They might have already spent time as a generalist, and learned what kinds of people they don't want to work with, and the ones that absolutely light them up. From that experience, they've learned how to market to the people that they want to work with in their business.

Focusing on a photography niche can also help make the generalist competition irrelevant. Consider this example: Photographer A is a generalist and takes on as many clients as they can, with much of their income coming from shooting school sports, family portraits, weddings, cake smashes and more. Although Photographer A does themed mini sessions every year, they struggle to get their clients to understand what makes their work stand out over other photographers'. Therefore, they find themselves competing on price and charge less than what they would like.

Conversely, several years ago Photographer B decided to focus their entire studio effort on high-end stylized children's portraiture. Every year Photographer B builds custom themed sets, and hand picks wardrobe that fits the theme. During the session, client's children participate in themed activities instead of just posing, and the parents purchase custom wall art at the end of the session. Photographer B never competes on price, as their work is highly prized by their clients.

While Photographer A might struggle to stand out among the competition, Photographer B's business has almost no competition. In fact, Photographer B's clients won't go anywhere else because they are so excited to see what each year's theme might be, and can't wait to purchase their new custom art.

When I started my photography business over ten years ago I did photojournalism for a local newspaper as well as photographed weddings, family parties, performances and actor's headshots. It didn't take me long to learn that I didn't enjoy shooting weddings, but I loved performance photography and working with actors. Over the next decade I began to niche even more and transitioned into higher-end commissions and fine art.

Maybe you've already begun your photography business journey, and have experienced different kinds of clients and types of work. But how do you know which niche is right for you?

There are two equally important questions you must ask yourself:

  • What niche do you love?
  • What niche do you excel at?

Take some time to look back over the work you've done in the past and ask yourself those two questions. Ideally you'll find a niche that you both love and excel at. If you're struggling to figure out what niche you want to build your business around, check out this article from Photography Spark on some of the top niches for photography businesses.

If you're looking for even more inspiration on various niches within the photography market, as well as their pros and cons, check out this list from Expert Photography.

Don't fall into the trap of focusing on a niche you love but aren't skilled in. For example, I love fashion photography but I'm not very good at it. Therefore it would take me a significant investment of time and practice before I could consider changing my niche to fashion photography.

We must also be equally careful not to get stuck in the trap of doing something that we are skilled at but don't like. At one point in my photography business, I thought about opening a boudoir division in my studio. In building a sample portfolio and taking on early clients, I found that although I was proud of the work I created, I wasn't passionate about that niche. Without passion, I knew that I wouldn't be able to market that niche authentically.

You might be lucky and have come up with several niches that you both love and excel in. What to do now? When considering a business venture it's also important to ask ourselves if there is a market for the kind of work we want to do, and what the competition is like.

Let's think back to our friends Photographers A & B. Someone who works within Photographer A's generalized business model would struggle to jump to Photographer B's extremely niche business model. It would be tough to even know if there was a market for this kind of niche children's photography, because there would be little competition to reference. Photographer B's business is an example of the highly specialized niches that exist on the spectrum of business models, and is the result of years of continual niche refinement.

However it is important to know that your niche is a profitable one. After all, we're in business to make a living. So while you're considering your niche, research whether or not there is demand in your area for that kind of photography. If you're in a generalized business model looking to find a niche, you certainly don't need to go as extreme as Photographer B. If you've decided that a niche like children's portraiture is something that lights you up, and you know is in demand in your community, then you're on the right track!

Now it's time to take a look at the competitive landscape. Who else is offering the kind of photography that you want to do? Children's photographers might saturate your market. Does this mean that it's hopeless for you to build a business in this niche? Absolutely not! But we might need to take a page out of Photographer B's book and think about how we can offer something unique and who we want to offer it to.

Now that you know the niche you want to focus on, and have verified that there is a demand for this kind of photography, it's time to cut through the competition by discovering who you want to serve in your business. Even within a niche, it's almost impossible to serve every single kind of client well.

When I was considering building a boudoir division for my photography business and I began testing my marketing messages, I got many inquiries from clients who were a good fit for my style. But I also got inquiries from prospects who wanted Playboy-style photoshoots or erotic images. Although I could have accepted some of these prospects as clients, I knew that the results I delivered would not have made them happy because they were not my ideal clients. Instead these conversations taught me that even within a niche it's important to define who our ideal client is. Doing business is a process of refinement where we can adapt both our offerings and our market messages to attract those ideal clients while deterring those who aren't right for us!

One of the best ways to create a niche photography business is to define the kinds of clients we want to work with. If you've been in a generalist business model until now, this concept might rub you the wrong way. Afterall, we're narrowing the net and choosing to take in fewer clients this way. So before we talk about how to define our ideal client, let's talk about why we do it!

In a business plan, an ideal client functions as a persona for the kinds of people we want to work with. The most important and simplest reason for discovering and defining our ideal client type is to determine the kinds of people we want to work with in our business. These are our dream clients, and by creating a persona of the kinds of people we want to work with the idea is that we attract them with our marketing, while deterring the kinds of people we don't want to work with.

Again I invoke our friends Photographer A and Photographer B. Because Photographer A is a generalist, they are hesitant to define an ideal client and simply want to have as many clients as possible to fill their business. Unfortunately, they've also had some bad run ins with clients who don't really appreciate photography, don't want to pay their prices and have asked for discounts. In a few cases, Photographer A has even had clients ask for refunds after steeply discounted sessions and final photos being delivered.

In the past Photographer B also had some bad run ins with less-than-ideal clients in their career. Every time they had those experiences, they sat down compare this bad client to their ideal client persona. By doing this, Photographer B was able to refine their business and marketing over time and is pretty happy to say that those kinds of bad clients are a thing of the past! Photographer B doesn't offer discounts, their clients are more than happy to pay their premium prices, and all of their clients know that because Photographer B's service is so specialized there are no refunds.

In these comparisons we can see that there are some pretty compelling reasons to discover our ideal client within our niches! By defining an ideal client we can hone our marketing in on serving people who:

  • value both photography and the services we offer.
  • aren't looking for discounts and are, instead, happy to pay our prices/li>
  • are more likely to be satisfied, and therefore, less likely to ask for refunds.

But before you begin dreaming up the ideal client that you want your business to focus on, Stephen Sheinbaum, founder of BizFi, recommends turning the lens on yourself first. He says, “You can't determine who your ideal client is if you don't have a firm handle on what your business is and what it does best.” This is why we focus on our niche first, determining the kind of business that we want to run first!

Creating an ideal client persona can be a very simple exercise if you've been working in the photography field for some time. You have a wealth of experience working with clients, both good and bad and can determine the type you want to continue working with. Think about the kinds of clients that you loved working with. Ask yourself what they had in common and begin to hone in on personality traits, interests, income and values.

If you're just getting started with your business, or you've decided to move into a relatively new niche, don't worry! You'll have to use a little imagination, and your ideal client persona will initially be a rougher sketch that will evolve. Visualize the kinds of clients that you would like to work with, and write down the common traits that they might all share.

Betsy Kent, founder of BeVisible, has a great resource with over thirty questions to ask yourself when defining your ideal client. The questions range from very specific demographic information, like:

  • How old is your ideal client?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their marital status?
  • What is their income?

There are also questions that delve deeply into the psychographics of your ideal client like:

  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What is their relationship like with their immediate family?
  • Are they caring for aging parents?

Also ask yourself about things like brand affinity, where they get their information from, and where do they spend their time both online and offline.

Once you've created a persona, you'll want to ask yourself questions relating to the specific services and products that you offer and how they relate to your client's buying cycle. Author Brian Tracey outlines this process in several steps:

Define your product or service from the client's point of view.

Your business can solve a client's problem, or fulfill their need. You just need to show them how and outline the benefits that your business provides.

Let's use Photographer B as an example:

Their ideal client is a high-income mom of young kids who spends her free time perusing design magazines. She has had plenty of portraits done of her children in the past, but they always felt rather generic and didn't seem to reflect the vibrant personalities of her children. What drew her to Photographer B was the custom experience, where her children could interact with the sets and play, meaning that her photographs will always be unique. Because Photographer B designs new sets and experiences every year, the photo sessions have become an annual event that this mom looks forward to!

In this example the ideal client is someone who already valued photographs of her children, but needed something that felt more unique to her design-savvy eye. The problem was bland photography. Therefore the solution was to find someone who offered an experience that went above and beyond the norm and still let her children's personalities be front and center.

Determine the specific benefits your client is seeking in working with you.

There are likely a number of benefits in working with your business, but there will be specific ones that are more important to your ideal client than others. In referring back to the above example, Photographer B might print all of their wall art through local printers who use eco-friendly ink. But if that benefit isn't the most important to their client, then it's not one that they will lead with in their marketing. Thinks about the reasons your ideal client would want to work with you rather than someone else, and then think about ways that you can highlight those reasons in your marketing.

Determine exactly when your ideal client buys your product or service.

Depending on your ideal client, this will differ. For example, if you offer maternity photography there is a very specific window of time that your idea client is going to be looking for your services. The same thing goes for wedding photography and other related niches.

Ask yourself what needs to happen in the personal or work life of your ideal client before they look into services or products like yours. For example, if you offer personal branding photography, there might be certain business milestones your ideal client has to hit before they think about investing in a session. Is there a specific time of year, season, or month that your ideal client would seek your business?

Determine your client's buying cycle and strategy.

Now it's time to think about your ideal client's buying cycle, sometimes referred to as the customer journey.Think about how your ideal client begins to seek out your services. Do they research on the internet, read blog features, or ask friends for referrals? What is their decision making process like? The more you can flesh this process out, the more you can reverse engineer their buying cycle.

Ask yourself if your client has invested in photography products or services like yours before. In the example of Photographer B's ideal client, they were already investing in photography sessions before they were looking for something more custom. So has your ideal client tried something from a competitor before that didn't work? Maybe your ideal client is new to the kind of photography that you do. For example, if you offer boudoir photography, your ideal client might be approaching doing a session for the first time.

The client buying cycle generally consists of five stages:

  • Awareness - this is the stage where your ideal client recognizes they have a need or a problem.
  • Consideration - this is when your ideal client searches for information and might also comparison shop.
  • Conversion - this is the booking or purchase stage, and where you render your services.
  • Loyalty - this is the stage where, hopefully, your client is so wow-ed by your business that they become a repeat client.
  • Advocacy - once your ideal client becomes loyal to your business, they can refer others to your business. Some businesses achieve this by setting up advocacy programs, but word-of-mouth referrals are also a part of this stage.

Think about what each of these stages might look like for Photographer B's ideal client:

  • In the Awareness stage, the ideal client becomes aware of their need for more custom photography after having generic results from another local photographer.
  • In the Consideration stage, they research other photographers who offer more customized work, doing searches online and asking friends for recommendations.
  • In the Conversion stage, they have inquired about Photographer B's services, gotten a consultation, booked a date, experienced the photoshoot and purchased prints.
  • In the Loyalty stage, the ideal client might get newsletter updates about new sets and fun activities that will be a part of next year's custom photoshoot experience.
  • In the Advocacy stage, the ideal clients are sharing their photos on social media and telling their friends about their experience.

Now you know your niche, who your ideal client is, and what their buying cycle looks like. These will become the cornerstones of your business, where all of your marketing and sales strategies need to align. When your website, blog and social media all speak the language of your ideal client, answer their burning questions and help solve their problems, you're more likely to attract the right people to your business.

Instead of publishing generic content for a generalized market, and curating general experiences within your business, you can use your niche, ideal client profile and their buying cycle as the map to creating a marketing strategy to reach the right people at the right time!

Ask yourself the kind of content could you create for your ideal client. What do they need help with when they're looking for a service or product like yours? Are there specific questions that you can answer for them? Where are they spending their time? From here you can create blog content, videos, and social media posts that all help speak to these kinds of people, and reach them where they are hanging out!

You can also audit your current content to see if it aligns with the niche you want to pursue and the clients you want to attract. If it doesn't, don't worry! Begin to alter the content you're posting to appeal to your new niche and ideal client, and over time you can archive old content that doesn't align. Once you've aligned your niche with your ideal client, and understand what they need and how they purchase, you'll quickly attract the right people to grow your business.

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About the Author

Jen Kiaba
Jen Kiaba is an award-winning artist, educator and the author of Perfect Facebook Ads. As a former Director at Dragon360, a New York Digital Marketing Agency, she brings her background of working with both small businesses and Fortune 500's to creative business owners looking to improve their digital presences and strategies. She also blogs about art marketing and licensing at jenkiaba.com
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